Why Does Your Dog love Eating Poo?
Our beautiful dogs and their love of poop!
We love them, adore them, laugh with them and play with them. Nothing is more perfect than our dogs right? Well, this is true, except for one habit in particular that turns many an owner's stomach. Eating poo! Having been a Registered Nurse for many a year I've seen sights that would turn a lot of people's insides, but even I've been on the point of nausea by the habits of some of my beloved dogs!
Therefore, let's find out more about coprophagia - the medical term for eating poo.
- Why do dogs do it?
- Is there any benefit to them from doing so?
- Is it harmful to them?
- Can we stop it?
Why do dogs eat poo?
Depending on the type of poo your dog feasts on, it goes by a different name:
- Autocoprophagia - this is the rarest form and involves a dog eating its own faeces.
- Intraspecific Coprophagia - this is when your dog eats the faeces of another dog.
- Interspecific Coprophagia - this is when a dog eats the faeces of another species for example - cat, horse, cow, sheep, rabbit, deer etc. This is the most common form of coprophagia.
Is it normal behaviour?
One of the first reasons dogs may indulge in this unpleasant behaviour is because they actually enjoy the taste. Poop might not be on our list of menu favourites but dogs and humans are obviously very different. In addition, if you take a look back at where our dogs came from - the wolf - although wolves are very good hunters, frequently they do have to resort to scavenging. Unfortunately scavenging includes eating any kind of faeces available, including human. This genetic inclination is likely to still be present in our domesticated dogs. In this instance, coprophagia is actually normal behaviour.
Veterinary and behaviour researchers have observed other activities that involve the eating of poo:
- Bitches with puppies will often eat her young's faeces. This is not only to keep the area as cleans as possible for her pups, but in the wild this behaviour would help to conceal the odour from potential predators.
- In some cases poo eating develops simply because a dog has watched another dog eating it. There are also some researchers who believe that dogs who see their owner cleaning up poo may decide to do likewise by eating it. However, there is not full agreement on this.
- Dogs have been observed eating the faeces of a sick dog. This is again a throw back to being in the wild, when this behaviour would protect the sick animal from predators by eliminating the odour.
Are there health reasons for coprophagia?
Apart from following normal behaviour patterns, coprophagia can also be a sign of health issues with the dog.
- Puppies will often eat faeces in order to restore a mineral or vitamin deficiency in their diet. This happens commonly when they are fed on a poor quality food lacking in the essential nutritional requirements.
- Malabsorption syndromes. Some dogs who have any of these distressing conditions may eat faeces. This can include eating their own poo. It's thought that the dogs do this, very like the puppies from earlier, to try to absorb essential nutrients that are unable to be taken into the body during the normal digestion process.
Does eating poo harm dogs?
Provided your dog is fully vaccinated and regularly wormed, eating poo doesn't seem to cause dogs any real harm. Sure, there are the occasions when they will get a gastric or intestinal upset, but apart from that, there are no long-term health complications.
Now that we've covered the basics of what is normal behaviour let's now look at when coprophagia becomes an abnormal activity.
When is coprophagia a sign of problem behaviour?
Although eating poo is within the normal behaviour range for most dogs, there are times when it is not.
Problem dog behaviour
There are a number of ways that coprophagia may be a demonstration of a problem behaviour. For example, is your dog eating faeces in order to get attention? Our first reaction when we see our dog eating poo is to shout. Now even although this not exactly positive attention, to some dogs, it won't matter - its the attention they want whether it's positive or negative. Be particularly careful with the breeds who love nothing better than to please their owners and have been bred this way, such as - Springer Spaniels, Labradors and Retrievers among many others. These breeds may have more of a tendency to display attention seeking behaviour.
Problem human behaviour
In many cases of coprophagia it isn't the dog who is at fault but the human. Here are a few examples of how we encourage coprophagia in our dogs:
- If you use punishment with a puppy when house training them - especially when it poops inside the house. It is known that puppies who are punished will in future eat their poo to hide the evidence in order to avoid the harsh reprimand. Always use positive training techniques and no punishment.
- If you get folks who are, let's just say, not as hygienic as they should be, you will get dogs eating poo to keep their area tidy and clean.
- Changing a dog's diet,especially too quickly, can lead to eating poo. Especially if the new diet is lower in essential nutrients.
- Dogs who are only fed once a day will tend to scavenge around much more than dogs whose meals are split up. The scavenging will also include eating faeces that they come across. It's healthier in a number of ways for dogs to have split meals - at least twice a day.
- It has been noticed that dogs who are over fed will sometimes eat their own faeces. This is because when a dog gets too much food it can't digest it properly. The result of this is that their poo both looks and smells like the food you serve up to them. In addition you will also induce other health issues such as obesity.
- Although this is not the human's fault, it is good to keep in mind that some types of medications, such as anti-biotics, can induce coprophagia in dogs.
Whatever the cause of your dog eating faeces most owners want the habit to stop. Let's now look at how we can go about discouraging our dogs from doing this.
First steps on teaching a dog to 'leave' something undesirable
Training steps for a dog to 'leave'/'leave it'.
Tips to discourage dogs eating poo
The first thing to identify is why your dog is eating faeces. Obviously if they are eating poo because of physical or psychological reasons, then you need to speak to your vet before trying anything else. If your dog is suffering from anxiety/stress and you think it's eating poo because of this, again, speak to your vet. If there are no health issues, then a dog behaviourist is always a great source of training and advice.
Tips on stopping coprophagia
- If you feed your dog once a day, try and change this to twice daily by splitting their meal up. This not only prevents scavenging behaviour but can help the dog to digest food better. Also feed your dog at the same time everyday or as near as possible.
- Ensure that your dog's diet is a nutritious and balanced one.
- As much as possible keep the immediate environment as clean of faeces as possible.
- As soon as you see your dog taking an interest in any kind of poo, create a distraction. This can be anything - running away while calling their name, treats, toys or whatever else works for you.
- Using a basic command consistently and persevering with it is often the most successful and long term way to stop poop eating - especially when your dog is off the lead. You can use any command word you choose, as long as you use the same one all the time for poo eating. I use "Leave it!" and then do a firm tug sideways on my dog's lead. Don't pull the lead harshly or in anger - you could end up hurting your dog. You want them to obey you, not to be scared of you. As soon as they do what you have asked, reward them immediately with a treat, game, toy or whatever your dog enjoys the most.
- Some people feed their dog with a spoonful of pineapple juice - among many other concoctions such as garlic - as this is said to make their faeces taste awful! Obviously this only works for dogs who eat their own poo. There are also products that pet stores have that are supposed to deter dogs from eating their poo. Two that I have seen online are 'Deter' and 'Forbid'. I haven't personally used these products so I can't vouch for them being a success. However, as with the pineapple, it only works for dogs who eat their own faeces. Having said this you must remember that in many cases dogs who eat their own poo, might well have a health or psychological problem and this needs to be checked out first.
- Some owners have tried using a muzzle with their dog when off the leash, to prevent them eating. As a last resort it is certainly worth a try, especially if you have a dog who has had a number of GI upsets due to eating faeces and other undesirables such as rotting fish etc. It would be best to use a soft muzzle as they are quite comfortable. However, I do know one dog owner that I meet regularly who tried this with her spaniel. However, she gave up after a couple of days due to the muzzle and her dog's face becoming covered in poo!
I'm sure there are many other ways that dogs can be deterred from eating poo. Keep in mind though that you need to fully understand first of all why your dog is acting in this way. Ruling out a health, dietary or psychological issue is the first thing to do. With Kassy my pup - who still tries to eat poo on occasion - it's basically due to her enjoying the taste and because she's a greedy Labrador!
As humans there are things that we do find revolting but when we care for our animals we shouldn't just embrace all the good stuff. Frequently, our pets enjoy doing things that are alien to our behaviour and upset our sensitivities. Nevertheless, that's all part of being a dog owner - taking the good with the bad - or should it be taking the good with the poo?